Without the majority of the population realising, GPS has become an integral part of our everyday lives, yet it is something we barely remember exists. Our technology, societal infrastructure, and lives are becoming extremely reliant on GPS, a system that becomes increasingly vulnerable the more it is relied upon.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is owned by the United States. There are now five other satellite systems in operation, BeiDou (China), Galileo (Europe), GLONASS (Russia), IRNSS (India), and QZSS (Japan). The GPS satellite system is still the most widely used and accessible. Whilst the GPS system's basic function is to pinpoint a receiver’s location, it has become one of the most important technological advancements of the modern world.
Last year, there was a signal jam in an Israeli airport, which almost had disastrous consequences. The skill and communication of air traffic controllers thankfully prevented any accidents from happening. Whilst no damage was done, the incident highlighted just how crucial functioning GPS systems have become to our everyday lives. Just five minutes of signal disruption could be life-threatening. The GPS system enables international banking to happen every second, as satellites are used to locate and time transactions. The stock market would undeniably crash without GPS, as trades and transfers must process correctly.
Boats use GPS signals to navigate difficult channels when visibility is significantly reduced. Emergency services use GPS to reach those who need help quickly. More so, the logistics industry would grind to a halt, as cranes could not locate the right containers to move, and supermarkets could not operate on a just-in-time produce delivery system, leaving empty shelves and prices soaring.
If the UK were to experience a loss of satellite navigation for five days, it would cost a staggering £5.1 billion. A failure of the GPS car tracking system would cost the US economy roughly $1 billion a day, more at certain times of the year. Given the importance of GPS within modern life, the UK is now developing its own service which would support the GPS system if it was signal jammed. The National Timing Centre program, which will become functional in 2025, will distribute atomic clocks across the UK, helping to protect against a single satellite becoming vulnerable to a cyberattack or glitch.
Different countries will likely begin creating their own way of securing satellite strength or building their own location services, as the world cannot simply rely on the GPS system. However, one thing is clear, GPS and location services are only going to become more integrated into our daily lives as technology advances.